Fear Makes Me a Better Artist, Mountain Biker, Surfer, Skier, Mom, Wife...
Half way through my bike ride I stopped, ripped off my helmet, threw it to the ground and immediately burst into tears. I had been mountain biking regularly for about 3 years and I couldn’t understand why I was still so scared. I kept waiting for it to let up; for the fear to subside so I could bike with confidence; so I wouldn’t tremble whenever I went around a blind turn or when there was a sheer drop-off just a few feet away. It never got better. The moment I got on the bike, I was scared. That was all there was to it. As I picked up my helmet and inspected it for cracks, I asked “why on earth am I doing this to myself?”
This is the same fear I encounter every day in my work as an abstract artist. Fear is alive and well and looms in my studio like a dark cloud. It follows me to the computer when I’m trying to figure out marketing and social media. It gets blustery when I sit down to write blog posts (because I’m a visual artist, not a writer!). It starts to drizzle when I think about the future and if my choice to make art my living is a prudent thing to do.
After that bike ride, I made a decision to stop riding. I would no longer try so hard to do things that scared me like that. That evening, I ran into my buddy, Nick. (No, not on my bike…at a concert.) Nick is also a mountain biker. I vented that I was tired of the fear, tired of feeling timid, and that I just didn’t understand why it wasn’t getting better. Then Nick told me something that changed my life: IT NEVER GOES AWAY. He said that after years and years of riding, he still gets scared and get this…he likes it. It’s part of why he rides. ?????????WTF????????? Nick encouraged me not to quit and to embrace the fear. It was a tactic I had never thought of.
Mountain biking on Applegate Lake. It took me a long time to get used to the sheer drop-off to my right. Photo by Chris Goodyear.
Fear and Art is Another Version of Fear and Life
When I call myself an artist, I feel scared. When I start a new painting, I’m scared. When I decided to quit my job, and pursue art, I was so terrified that I got acid reflux and had to quit drinking coffee (true story). But here’s the deal: some of the things that bring me the greatest pleasures in life are things that I’m scared of. Mountain biking, surfing, skiing, being a good mother and wife, abstract painting… I have the same reaction to them all. I’m scared of failing so I work harder at it.
Abstract Art Inspiration Comes with Accepting the Reality of Fear
What Nick said to me changed everything. I got back on the bike, this time, with a reframe of fear in my mind. “Ok Fear! You’re here! I’m here! Neither of us are going anywhere so let’s try to work together, yeah?” I started peddling and a strange thing happened. When I knew that fear was a natural reaction, it didn’t scare me as much. It didn’t go away, but I wasn’t paralyzed by it and it didn’t influence my motor skills. Riding became smoother and I became a better biker.
I have written before that I used to live my life driven by fear. It’s true. But what I have been able to do through outdoor sports like mountain biking is to re-define my relationship with fear. There are times when fear means “STOP NOW” and there are times when I can brush it off my shoulder.
Smiling on the Dread and Terror portion of the North Umpqua trail.
Photo by Chris Goodyear
The Freedom of Art: Doing My Art Anyway Even If I Am Scared
Think of it in terms of a different emotion, happiness. When I found out that I was going to be published in an art journal, I was so happy that I bounced up and down and hugged everyone around me and shrieked in excitement. But does that mean that every time I feel happy that I need to do an ecstatic freak out dance of happiness? I would go so far as to say that would not be normal behavior.
I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into. I don’t know if I will succeed as an abstract artist but maybe all I need to do is live with that insecurity knowing that it very well may never go away. I do know one thing, staying still is no way to move forward. There a sure-fire way of falling over on a bike in a creek crossing and that is to stop peddling. I think I’ll put one peddle in front of the other and keep moving. Through moments of doubt when painting, through insecurities that tell me I’m not good enough. I’m not going to stop and stare at that because then I’ll just be stopped and one thing is for sure…I do not enjoy and have never enjoyed being still. I got things to do and people to see and paintings to paint and hustles to hustle. Onward!
Artwork at top is Divide and Conjure 12x12 on Birch Board
"My Hustle has a Hustle." - Artist Ronald Sanchez
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